Negative raising

Paolo Ramat paoram at UNIPV.IT
Sat Dec 3 11:41:09 UTC 2011

Dear Linguistlist members,
David writes: <<if you say something like MARY NEG THINK JOHN SMART, this can not usually be taken to mean "Mary thinks that John is not smart". >>. Especially if you have a binary choice (such as “smart/not-smart”, or “right/wrong”, “just/not just”) the first and usual meaning of   MARY NEG THINK JOHN X  is exactly MARY  THINK JOHN IS NOT X.  Whether we have ‘NEG-raising’ or not is another question, namely if you believe  in ‘movement metaphors’ (Daniel)


From: Everett, Daniel 
Sent: Friday, December 02, 2011 12:08 PM
Subject: Re: Negative raising


Thanks for this. Aside from my clumsy use of the "S-comp" phrase, I was purposely trying to avoid using Neg-raising, because, though it is a well-established term, I was trying to focus on  the scope phenomena without a movement metaphor. Or standardized terminology (which I am not a big fan of). Also, I am mainly interested in non-European languages, which I don't believe Larry Horn or anyone else has done a survey of. 

>From the replies that I have received so far there seems to be  considerable variation as to whether languages allow this or not (I will post a summary at some point).

These are excellent references, of course. Thanks for mentioning them.

-- Dan 

On Dec 2, 2011, at 5:26 AM, Martin Haspelmath wrote:

  The phenomenon that Dan Everett was trying to describe goes by the well-established term "negative raising" (see

  The most detailed discussion of it is perhaps still Larry Horn's treatment in his "Natural history of negation". The only broadly cross-linguistic discussion of the phenomenon that I am aware of is ch. 9 of the following book:

  Bernini, Giuliano & Paolo Ramat. 1996. Negative sentences in the languages of Europe: a typological approach. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

  They looked at 45 languages of Europe and found very little variation worth reporting. All seem to be more or less like English or Hebrew in this regard.


  On 01/12/2011 23:04, David Gil wrote: 
    Dan and all, 

    I'm suspect many other LINGTYP readers, and not just me, are not sure what you mean by "an S-comp rule". 

    The colloquial varieties of Indonesian that I am familiar with do not have an overt complementizer.  And indeed, if you say something like MARY NEG THINK JOHN SMART, this can not usually be taken to mean "Mary thinks that John is not smart".  Are you suggesting that these two facts are related? 

    I have argued elsewhere that the Indonesian/English contrast is one manifestation of a general tendency for Indonesian to be more iconic, or "Behagelian", in its constituency than languages like English.  So I would also be very interested to learn how common so-called "neg-raising" is cross-linguistically -- with or without a complementizer. 


    PS rereading your query, I can add that Hebrew works like English. 

      I am interested in knowing whether a certain pattern is more or less common. The question is whether languages with an S-comp rule usually have the possibility of negation switching scope across the matrix clause into the subordinate clause. So for example, in English in examples like "Mary doesn't think that John is smart" one meaning of this is that "Mary thinks that John isn't smart." 
      My question is whether English is rare or not. Even in English, the features seems to be limited to epistemic verbs, like "think". 

      So do readers of this list know of non-Indo European languages with this type of negative scope possibility? If so, is it limited to specific classes of verbs? 

      If you'd rather respond to me off-line, that is fine. I will later post a summary if there are enough answers. 




Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6	
D-04103 Leipzig      
Tel. (MPI) +49-341-3550 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616

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